Cultivate


Cultivate came out one month ago, and I believe I started reading it the next day.

For someone who has always considered "reader" to be a defining personality trait, I really struggle with the fact that it took me a month to read this.

But that's the season I'm in right now, and ultimately this is a book about seasons. I really like the way this book is structured. Each chapter focuses on a lie that we all believe (and yeah, they pretty much all applied and I think they are pretty universal) and the truth we should believe. In between, there are sections called "Grace from the Garden" and those were far and away my favorite part. They are gardening tidbits littered with parable and family lessons. While I got a lot out of Cultivate as a whole, the Grace from the Garden parts are what I will probably go back and re-read most.

The chapter that hit me in the gut talked about the lie that my life has to look like everyone else's. Comparison is a complete happiness killer and I think lots of new moms will back me up on that. From the minute I announced I was pregnant I was flooded with advice. And while most was good, and all appreciated, I figured out real quick that when it comes to parenting, people think their way is the right way and the only right way.

You almost can't help but feel like you're probably making the wrong decision at every turn. But I am trying hard to let go of comparison. I am doing motherhood my way, and choosing the things that I feel are best for me and my family. And I just have to trust my gut.

But it's not just for me, I have to do if for the other mamas as well. I realized recently that I justify so many parenting choices, without being asked. And when I'm talking with new moms, I might be making them feel like they have to justify their decisions to me. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, which is more often than you'd think, I practically trip over myself to sputter "…hurricane evacuation… stress… no milk supply" because I am so desperate for them to know, formula feeding wasn't my first choice. I am going to try my best to stop that, because first of all, I don't have to justify myself to anyone. And second of all, I don't want to ever make another mom feel like she needs any reason other than formula feeding was right for her and her baby.

As a side note- I will probably continue to be sarcastic to the women who passive aggressively tell me breast is best while I'm standing in a store with a baby in one arm and formula in the other. I'm trying here, but I'm not a saint.

Whether it's sleep training, potty training, pacifier use, language, or motor skills, we've got to stop comparing ourselves as parents, and worse, our kids. And non-parents and expectant parents should remember to keep their words soft and sweet, lest they have to eat them later. I have certainly eaten plenty of mine. I had every intention of letting A cry it out. And I just can't do it. I think it's great if it works for some people, and I totally see the argument for it. But I can't let her cry. I can't help myself. And if in another year she's got sleep issues and it's all my fault, guess what, I'm the one who has to live with it. She sleeps through the night the majority of the time despite me helping her get to sleep, and I think she's going to turn out okay despite my lack of willpower.

I related everything in Cultivate to marriage and motherhood, because that's where I am in my life but there really is a lot there no matter where you are. Friendships, career, and community are big parts of the book and I really do think that there's something for everyone. I loved the garden metaphors and using the garden to teach so many lessons. I have somehow managed to keep a rose bush alive for about 7 months and now I fancy myself a gardener. Reading Cultivate fueled that so much. I've expanded my porch garden to include herbs, half of which are thriving, and a sunflower which sadly, along with the other half of the herbs is not.

Biggest takeaway? Good things grow in dirt. Despite the fact that we hide out dirt, sweep it out of our houses and pretend everything's shiny. Good things grow in dirt.

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Make It Happen

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I’m going to take the long way around to telling you about this book.

So, I’m a planner person. I’ve always been a planner person. I actually used the assignment book they gave us in school. I looked forward to what the next year’s would look like. Long after most of the people I knew switched to Google Calendar or iCal, I was still using my planner. Smart phones came around (but until senior year of college I only knew one person who had one) and even more people took their calendars digital, and I stayed loyal to my paper planner. Different brands over the years, eventually landing on Erin Condren. I used Erin Condren planners for about 6 years. Until about a month ago. That’s kind of where my journey to reading Make It Happen starts.

A couple of years ago being a planner person really became a thing. Maybe it happened before that, but that’s when I found out about it. There were stickers and a gazillion accessories, and stamps, and oh be still my heart, the pens. I went down the rabbit hole a little but could never afford to really commit. But over the past 2+ years, my beloved planner that kept me organized slowly started to feel like a stressor. As a girl who used to rip out class notes and rewrite them if I didn’t like my handwriting that day, I found it hard to look at a planner that didn’t look “perfect.” Basically not only was I failing at planning, I was failing at my planner. Yikes.

During my foray into planning as an art form, I had discovered other companies and looked at their planners. I was committed to EC but planners are gorgeous to me. Blank pages with lines to fill out are my catnip. I like filling out the forms at the beginning of the school year or at the doctors office. I just want you to get an idea of the way this stuff pulls me in. Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner is gorgeous, but I was never ready to switch to it. It’s more plain, less accessories. Hence the “simplified”. But I was intrigued by her and her company. I read her blog posts, subscribed to her mailing lists, followed her on social media, and every time she launched a new version I would consider it before ultimately deciding to keep my EC. One of the people that Emily mentions frequently is her friend Lara Casey. And I’m starting to get around to the book that is supposed to be the point of this post.

Lara is the creator of Powersheets, which are a really cool goal planner. When I first looked at them, I didn’t really consider them something I would use. But attracted by the pretty notebooks, stickers, and website, I started to read about Lara, too. I read her blog posts, read reviews of the Powersheets, and I was fascinated.

Here’s the part where I tell you: I read Make It Happen for all the wrong reasons. It was almost voyeuristic. Every blog post I read, every guest post I came across was clear- before starting this successful company, this lady was a mess. A big one. She talked openly about the problems she had faced in school, and in previous business endeavors. She talked about a divorce, and a second marriage that had had so many struggles. Differing faiths, conflicting priorities, ultimately infidelity. And I thought- if THIS LADY can get it together, maybe I can, too. And I had to know more. I had to know how she did it. And to be honest, I wanted to know the rest of the story in a truly gossipy drama-hungry way.

So I downloaded Make It Happen to the Kindle and dove in. I practically reveled in her mess and imperfection. As if it made me less of a mess.

Less than halfway through reading, I ordered a set of Powersheets. I also decided it was time to throw away a planner that was making me feel like a failure. The new Emily Leys had just launched but I couldn’t afford one. But, I managed to find one of last year’s at an online retailer and it goes through this December. It was launch day for the new ones and I paid $10 for the old one.

When both arrived, I sat down and I dove in. No bells and whistles, though I do still color code- now incorporated into both books. For example, teal in my planner indicates an event or task that has to do with the kids (school, sports, doctor appointments) and in my Powersheets I use the same color to indicate a goal has to do with the kids (strengthening our relationship, sleep training A, reading more with F and G). I feel really good when I’m using these books, too, because i like supporting the companies these women have built.

I would be lying if I said my perfectionism isn’t still tearing it’s ugly head. But it’s starting to feel manageable because after reading Make It Happen I feel like I am able to focus more on the things that actually matter. So many of the struggles I was reading about felt so familiar.

An inability to let go of control of every detail of everything. 

The incredible stress I feel when it seems that my faith and my husband’s are at odds. 

Seeking fulfillment in anything and everything in order to avoid looking in the mirror and figuring out what actually mattered. 

Leaving a messily written post-it on my computer instead of re-writing it at the end of the day might seem trivial. It is trivial. But for me, it is a huge step towards accepting that perfectionism gets in the way of a fulfilling life. I can think of dozens of examples of things I found disappointing, not because they weren’t fun or fulfilling but because they didn’t meet my RIDICULOUSLY HIGH expectations. My desire to have a picture perfect family fuels a lack of patience and understanding that I desperately need to build my relationships with F and G.

A marriage between a Catholic and an Episcopalian hardly qualifies as interfaith. But man, some days the differences between what we think and believe seem insurmountable. Especially when deciding how to raise our kids and talk to them about faith.

This book subverted my expectations in two ways. Like I said, I didn’t read it expecting to have it affect the way I think.

First, I generally don’t like books that talk to you or assign you homework. I like to pretend that any epiphanies I’ve had are strictly due to my own thinking.

Second, I have a hard time with what I’ll call here an evangelical way of talking about faith. Growing up in a rural county where everyone I knew went to the big modern contemporary church, and I frequently explained what it was to be an Episcopalian sort of bred a bit of a bad outlook in me. At times, I resented that we were different than other families. Especially in middle school and high school when the last thing you want is to be different than your friends. Funnily enough, I think even if I hadn’t been raised Epsicopalian, it’s where I would have landed eventually. I could write a whole post on my love of the Episcopal church, but that’s for another time. But I generally push back against the more casual ways of talking about God and an individuals own personal relationship with God. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more open to others talking this way. Probably because as an adult when I hear this, it seems more genuine and I have met some people who really seem to strive to live their lives by the principles that they espouse. I can respect that.

I’m almost a month into using my Powersheets and I’m so happy with some changes I’ve started to make. It’s slow going, but good things happen slowly.

And if you want to change, you have to start. Talking about it is all well and good, but you have to take action.

Anne of Green Gables

Let’s just take a minute to laugh heartily about how the last time I posted was January 7, and that I said I’d be posting once a week.

Today is May 10.

I would love to blame my lack of reading/writing on time constraints but mostly, I think I have just been reading the wrong books.

I started Fates and Furies. Twice. Picked up a few others here and there. Nothing really held my attention. I remembered a quote I had saved a while back (which of course now I can’t find despite checking my phone notes, my planner notes, Evernote, Goodreads, and Pinterest and realizing that I’m saving things in too many different places). But the jist was, you should never read a book outside of it’s time for you. That a book that you love when you are 13 might lose its charm at 30 and that a book you didn’t love at 24 might be your new favorite at 48. I decided I was just picking the wrong books.

Normally when I get into a reading rut, I pick up Harry Potter. But this time, I thought I wanted to try something different. I grabbed Anne of Green Gables because I’ve actually only read the series once (unlike HP which I’ve read at least 10 times) and because Netflix has an Anne series coming out this month which I’ve been looking forward to.

I am so glad I did. I read it in a little over a week, which isn’t bad considering my mom was here and then we went to VA. I remembered loving Anne but I didn’t really remember details.

Anne names everything, including the houseplants. She ends her prayers with “Sincerely yours”. She is loyal. She has a temper. She is competitive.

Reading it as an adult, I’m not sure if I identified with Anne as a kid because I was already like her, or if I imitated her. Probably a combination of the two. But I had to smile when I read things that felt familiar. As a kid who had to be touching both of my teddy bears when I went to sleep because I was scared one would feel left out, I understand ascribing human emotion to everything. As a teenager who was apt to refer to both my church and the library as sactuaries, I connect with the sense of solemn spirituality with a dash of irreverence.

In the past few years, I have found myself picking up books because they are classics or on some must-read list. It was so great to go back to something that I just had pure joy in reading. No expectations that it was going to be life changing. No nagging guilt that I didn’t “get it” or that it didn’t speak to me.

One of the traits I most try to imitate in my husband is that he really earnestly loves the things he loves. I realized it a few months after we started dating. We were in my apartment one afternoon and there were music videos playing on TV. “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley came on and he turned to me and said that he loved that song. It took me a minute to realize that he wasn’t kidding. He doesn’t love anything ironically. He just loves what he loves. I try to remember that moment any time I get caught up in wanting to read the next big book or try to get inspired by a book just because it has inspired someone I admire. It’s okay to read the things that bring ME joy and for no other reason.

So I’m a few chapters into Anne of Avonlea. I’ll update soon, but no promises as to when that will be. 😊

Grace, Not Perfection

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to decide on a new writing project. I wrote for a long time about my List as I checked off things I wanted to do, or try, or experience. But it’s been a couple of years since I really wrote regularly. I thought about making another List, and dig out my old one. I did enjoy reading it but I’ve really outgrown it. I do have a list of things I want to do this year on my planner that the kids helped me make, but as much as I want to do those things, I’m not sure I want to write about them.

The biggest thing that I’ve let fall by the wayside in the very hectic few months we’ve had is that I don’t read much anymore. And I used to read A LOT. When I do read, I feel the urge to call everyone I know after I’ve finished a book that I loved and tell them about it. Many of you experienced this most recently in September when I read The Prince of Tides.

So I’m going to try to combine the two into this little project. Since with the kids and juggling lots of schedules, my reading rate has slowed way down, I am going to mix in writing about some of my favorite books that I’ve already read in order to hopefully post about a book once a week.

So to kick things off, I give you: Grace, Not Perfection by Emily Ley.

Emily Ley is the creator of the Simplified Planner, which is about the most beautiful planner I’ve ever seen. I tried it for about 6 months, but the layout doesn’t work that well for me. While I don’t personally use her planner, I do follow her on social media, read everything she writes, and use her free printable organizing worksheets. She is very relatable, and her message of keeping things simple is one I can really get behind.

I preordered this book in September, since its release date was also my due date. I thought it would make for a great maternity leave read.

That turned out to be an understatement.

Quick version of events: my baby is born during a hurricane evacuation, we are away from home for a week (my brief maternity leave ticking away quickly), and ultimately in the last week of October I’m let go from my job.

Cue: spiraling into a dark tunnel of chaos that I thought I’d never get out of again.

It all worked out. My family and friends are an amazing supportive group of people who are neither going to let us starve or let me stay upset but so long.

I got a new job, spending less than a week unemployed and we are slowly but surely getting things back under control and back on our feet. Side note: I LOVE my new job. Getting let go from a job where I really loved my coworkers but was overall pretty unhappy and landing in this new place that I completely love was such a blessing.

So this is the backdrop against which I read Grace, Not Perfection. It took forever because I would read a couple of pages at a time, propping it up while I fed the baby, or falling asleep reading it when I crashed into bed at night. It’s an easy read, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

It is full of great tips for simplifying things so that you can really enjoy the things that matter. Emily calls it ‘creating margin’ in your life. The thing that really hit home with me is that at some point we all decided that we’re in a competition to see who is the busiest. I remember even going back to college that getting the least sleep, having the most packed schedule was some sort of badge of honor. And it’s true now, too. I have tons of conversations revolving around how busy we all are. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that this pace is unsustainable.

I will definitely incorporate some of the ideas I read in this book, but mostly I want to try to embrace the philosophy. I am 100% guilty of making perfect the enemy of the good. My sister and I have talked a lot about how we both have this Perfection feeling about cleaning the house- basically if I don’t have time to clean it from top to bottom and make it perfect, then I just don’t do it at all. You can see how this is a problem. I’m tired of spending my Sundays cleaning because I somehow think a perfect house will mean a perfect week. I’m trying to focus on the high spots. Picking up the clutter, keeping the kitchen clean, that kind of stuff. As much as I love to see an empty laundry room, it’s not that realistic. I’m letting go of the kids’ room being perfectly clean. I can see the floor? Good enough. I don’t want to spend time that we could be building a pillow fort or watching a movie all together being worried about the dust on the ceiling fan.

Overall, I really recommend this especially if you’re a “planner person” like me. Organizing, planning, and calendars are my catnip and this book was written from one planner to another.

Here’s hoping I can really keep up with this. I’ve been wanting to write this post for about a week and I’m finally doing it on my phone from the bathtub at 7am on Saturday morning while the kids are all sleeping.

What’s up next?

So I’m starting to read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. But while I wait to finish it, I’m going to write about Eat, Pray, Love and The Price of Tides. Also, the kids and I are reading The Wizard of Oz together. So that’s all coming up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed, though I’m okay with admitting that I’m doing this mostly for me. I’m going to try to move my reading list from my planner to a page on this site sometime this weekend so check out my list and if you have any book recommendations, please let me know!